A friend of mine who loves ballet and dance sent me an incredibly interesting video about 2 weeks ago. The video, En Puntas, is by Javier Pérez, a Spanish artist, and features ballerina Amelie Segarra dancing on the razor sharp points of two knives on top of a piano. The images alone are visceral and beautiful, but the video that Pérez shot capturing Segarra’s struggle to remain on point is breathtaking.
The meaning of the piece aside, the piece stuck with me, and has been simmering on the back burner in my mind for a while now. The question I’m left with is this: what in the hell am I supposed to call this? In an artistic scene that is so weighed down by the need for labels and categories like Performance
Art, Dance, Visual Art, etc, where does this fall? Would it have to be resigned to the uncategorized option on this blog? I’m unsure.
Labels are incredibly useful. They keep you from mixing up your Advil and your arsenic (why is there arsenic in your medicine cabinet?). They allow us to put together artists with similar aes
thetics or philosophies. They help to put similar styles of music together, and to allow you to discover more of what you like based on categories you already enjoy (although Pandora could probably use some help).
Categorization is inherently human, and it helps us to make sense of our world, both literal and artistic. I know for certain that being able to separate modern and post-modern art is useful… at least I think so. Or do I? The interplay between them is so strong that it seems almost cruel to keep them apart. Why make Chekhov stay back with the Realists when there is so much he has in dialogue with Beckett and the Absurdists? Why attempt to separate performance art from theatre, or from visual art?
Categories ARE useful, but they are also dangerous. In this case, I found myself thinking a lot longer about how to properly define what it is I wanted to discuss than what I wanted to discuss about it. I am, at heart, more academic than artistic. I enter a play through analysis, and find my way to the viscera. However, sometimes that academic tendency can hamstring me, and close me off from some of the most beautiful truth a script has to offer, all because I’ve kept my mind wide open but left my soul at the door.
I watched the video again, and took the time to just sit back and absorb. I tried to let the video speak to me, instead of strapping it to a chair and trying to extract meaning by force (see Billy Collins’s poem “Introduction to Poetry” for the fallacy of that approach). What happened was wonderful. My analysis from the first viewing was complemented by a more relaxed and visceral understanding of the emotion in the piece, and so my understanding was dramatically improved.
So to tie up the loose end on categories, yes, I think they’re important, as is the academic side of theatre. However, I know that I need to put in checks and balances on the academics to make sure I account for the visceral aspects of drama. I’m sure others have the opposite problem occasionally, and that’s the beauty of art, we are all struggling to better know ourselves so that we can better know our art.